“The advice I offer is merely suggestion; granted, it is really awesome suggestion, but the words you use are entirely up to you. You are the parent; I’m just some guy on the playground.” – Whit Honea, author, The Parents’ Phrase Book
This actually happened when I sat down to review The Parents’ Phrase Book by the Good Men Project Dads & Families Editor Whit Honea. Our 5-year-old son, who evidently stores memories like an ancient mountain range harbors legends, asked about our late pet cat, Luna. She’s been gone for more than a year, which means 20 percent of his time on Earth has been spent without her living, breathing, purring presence. Yet, as I opened my laptop and keyed the Kindle app on my iPad mini to my digital copy of The Parents’ Phrase Book, our 5-year-old son decided it was exactly the right time to ask this:
“Daddy? Is Luna happy she’s dead?”
I looked at my son. Then back at my iPad. Then back at my son.
“Is she happy?” I said. This was a stalling tactic. Asking the question back at him gave me the opening I needed to recall the advice I had so recently read in my new copy of The Parents’ Phrase Book. Without even flipping over to the chapter on Life and Death, I framed a measured response appropriate to place, time and expediency.
“I don’t think she’s happy or sad,” I said. “I don’t think cats or people or anyone knows they’re dead, buddy. In fact, you could say that everything you loved about her will always be with you. As long as you remember her, she will live inside you. And that sounds like something to be happy about.”
Those italics? Turns out that’s parenting plagiarism, ripped right out of the pages of The Parents’ Phrase Book. The rest was mine. I’m pretty certain the author would have approved.
My son was satisfied. He nodded, shrugged, picked up a toy plane and flew it around the house.
That’s a true story. Parenting mission accomplished, thanks to The Parents’ Phrase Book.
It’s not always going to be that easy, and Whit Honea knows that all too well. As the father of two boys, he writes with a voice that resonates with experience. And humor. And grace. Basically, he is a funny, graceful, experienced Super Nanny. Without the British pretension or the condescending tsk-tsks or a Naughty Step.
If you’re a parent, you’ve said the wrong thing. You know you have. You also live your life under duress. You are tired. You are distracted. You often find yourself on the verge of tears. No, don’t deny it. Sudden loud noises give you hives.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, like my 5-year-old son, kids have an instinct for waiting until the least opportune (or most ironic) moment to spring the trickiest question or concoct the most awkward scenario. Right about then is when all the duress and stress and exhaustion combine to fill your mouth with an entirely inappropriate and out-of-proportion response. That is, if you don’t merely fall into a catatonic state of disequilibrium and collapse in a quivering mass of celluloid and gristle.
Which response is followed, inevitably, by wave after wave of crushing guilt and affirmation of your inadequacy as a parent.
OK, maybe it’s not that bad. Not all the time, anyway. Maybe even almost never. Maybe, like me, you consider yourself blessed with the finest representatives of 21st century American kidhood on the planet. You still have said the wrong thing, or been stumped by an ethical question, or been blind-sided by a child asking, “Do you like my drawing?” When you’re not really sure if you’re seeing a “flamingo in the snow or a candy cane melting on the beach.” (Chapter 4 – Play and Creativity: Enter the Imagination.)
What you need here is a catalog of phrases, a ready-made list of verbal responses to employ when and where required. That’s what you get with the Parents’ Phrase Book.
The answer to the question above about the flamingo-candy cane drawing is, Whit Honea tells us, “Yes. Every. Single. Time. Then you back it up with all the praise, raves, encouragement that you can muster (use a thesaurus). Look how well it worked out for Jackson Pollock. The refrigerator in his childhood home must have been covered in awesome.”
What I particularly like, and what gives this volume a unique place in the massive catalog of parenting advice books, is that Whit doesn’t stop there. Throughout The Parents’ Phrase Book, right alongside the “right” things to say, are examples of What Not To Say. It’s there, in those often funny and poignant anti-answers, that you’ll find shining examples of the author’s common sense, compassion and wisdom. For instance, the incorrect answer to the question above about the child’s flamingo cane drawing is, “No. … I suppose there is some Bizarro World where people think that offering negative criticism of a child’s creativity is doing her a favor, what with tough love and all that, but how is making a child ashamed of her imagination doing anything positive for anyone?”
The Parents’ Phrase Book is a short-hand guide for the short-sighted or long-winded or loud-mouthed parents among us. Or for any parent. Or any non-parent, even. It’s the kind of book you’d suggest if someone asked you, “Hey, what should I read to make myself a better person?”
And if, many months after your beloved family cat has passed away and your 5-year-old kid suddenly wants reassurance that kitty is happy, you’ll be ready.
Please note, The Parents’ Phrase Book by Whit Honea was written by the editor of this section, but Carter Gaddis was not bribed or otherwise coerced into writing this review, glowing as it may be. The Parents’ Phrase Book is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.